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Full text of "Liberty in literature, testimonial to Walt Whitman"

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LIBERTY IN LITERATURE 

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TESTIMONIAL 



Walt Whitman 



BY 



ROBERT G. INGERSOLL 



AN ADDRESS DELIVERED IN PHILADELPHIA, OCT. 21, 1890 



WITH PORTRAIT OF WHITMAN 



" Let lis put wreaths on the brows of the living'''' 



AUTHORIZED EDITION 



NEW YORK 

TRUTH SEEKER COMPANY 
28 Lafayette Place 



Copyrighted, 1890, 

BY 

The Truth Seeker Company. 



TESTIMONIAL 

TO 

WALT WHITMAN, 



Of all the placid hours in his peaceful life, 
those that Walt Whitman spent on the stage of 
Horticultural Hall last night must have been 
among the most gratifying, says the Philadel- 
phia Press of October 22, 1890. To a testi- 
monial, intended to cheer his declining years, 
not only in a complimentary sense, came some 
eighteen hundred or more people to listen to 
a tribute to the aged poet by Col. Robert G. 
Ingersoll, such as seldom falls to the lot of 
living man to hear about himself. 

On the stage sat many admirers of the vener- 
able torch-bearer of modern poetic thought, as 

yt . - 



603196 



4 LIBERTY IN LITERATURE. 

Colonel Ingersoll described him, young and old, 
men and women. There were white beards, 
but none were so white as that of the author of 
" Leaves of Grass." He sat calm and sedate in 
his easy wheeled chair, with his usual garb of 
gray, with his cloudy white hair falling over 
his white, turned-down collar that must have 
been three inches wide. No burst of eloquence 
from the orator's lips disturbed that equanim- 
ity ; no tribute of applause moved him from his 
habitual calm. 

And when the lecturer, having concluded, 
said, "We have met to-night to honor our- 
selves by honoring the author of 'Leaves of 
Grass,' " and the audience started to leave the 
hall, the man they had honored reached for- 
ward with his cane and attracted Colonel Inger- 
soll's attention. 

" Do not leave yet," said Colonel Ingersoll, 
"Mr. Whitman has a word to say." 

This is what he said, and no more character- 
istic thing ever fell from the poet's lips or 
flowed from his pen : 



TESTIMONIAL TO "WALT WHITMAN. £ 

"After all, my friends, the main factors 
being the curious testimony called personal 
presence and face to face meeting, I have 
come here to be among you and show myself, 
and thank you with my living voice for coming, 
and Robert Ingersoll for speaking. And so 
with such brief testimony of showing myself, 
and such good will and gratitude, I bid you 
hail and farewell." 



TESTIMONIAL TO WALT WHITMAN. 



THE ADDRESS. 



Let us Put Wreaths on the Brows of the Living. 



I. 

In the year 1855 the American people knew 
but little of books. Their ideals, their models, 
were English. Young and Pollok, Addison and 
Watts were regarded as great poets. Some of 
the more reckless read Thomson's "Seasons" 
and the poems and novels of Sir "Walter Scott. 
A few, not quite orthodox, delighted in the 
mechanical monotony of Pope, and the really 
wicked — those lost to all religious shame — were 
worshipers of Shakespeare. The really ortho- 
dox Protestant, untroubled by doubts, consid- 
ered Milton the greatest poet of them all. 
Byron and Shelley were hardly respectable — not 
to be read by young persons. It was admitted 



g LIBERTY IN LITERATURE. 

on all hands that Burns was a child of nature 
of whom his mother was ashamed and proud. 

In the blessed year aforesaid, candor, free 
and sincere speech, were under the ban. 
Creeds at that time were entrenched behind 
statutes, prejudice, custom, ignorance, stupid- 
ity, Puritanism and slavery ; that is to say, 
slavery of mind and body. 

Of course it always has been, and forever will 
be, impossible for slavery, or any kind or form 
of injustice, to produce a great poet. There are 
hundreds of verse makers and writers on the 
side of wrong — enemies of progress — but they 
are not poets, they are not men of genius. 

At this time a young man — he to whom this 
testimonial is given— he upon whose head have 
fallen the snows of more than seventy winters 
— this man, born within the sound of the sea, 
gave to the world a book, "Leaves of Grass." 
This book was, and is, the true transcript of a 
soul. The man is unmasked. No drapery of 
hypocrisy, no pretense, no fear. The book was 
as original in form as in thought. All customs 



TESTIMONIAL TO WALT WHITMAN. 9 

were forgotten or disregarded, all rules broken 
— nothing mechanical — no imitation — sponta- 
neous, running and winding like a river, multi- 
tudinous in its thoughts as the waves of the 
sea — nothing mathematical or measured. In 
everything a touch of chaos — lacking what is 
called form as clouds lack form, but not lack- 
ing the splendor of sunrise or the glory of sun- 
set. It was a marvelous collection and aggre- 
gation of fragments, hints, suggestions, memo- 
ries, and prophecies, weeds and flowers, clouds 
and clods, sights and sounds, emotions and 
passions, waves, shadows and constellations. 

His book was received by many with disdain, 
with horror, with indignation and protest — by 
the few as a marvelous, almost miraculous, 
message to the world— full of thought, philos- 
ophy, poetry and music. 

In the republic of mediocrity genius is 
dangerous. A great soul appears and fills the 
world with new and marvelous harmonies. In 
his words is the old Promethean flame. The 
heart of nature beats and throbs in his line. 



1Q LIBERTY IN LITERATURE. 

The respectable prudes and pedagogues sound 
the alarm, and cry, or rather screech : " Is this 
a book for a young person?" 

A poem true to life as a Greek statue — candid 
as nature — fills these barren souls with fear. 

They forget that drapery about the perfect 
was suggested by immodesty. 

The provincial prudes, and others of like 
mold, pretend that love is a duty rather than a 
passion — a kind of self-denial — not an over- 
mastering joy. They preach the gospel of pre- 
tense and pantalettes. In the presence of sin- 
cerity, of truth, they cast down their eyes and 
endeavor to feel immodest. To them, the most 
beautiful thing is hypocrisy adorned with a 
blush. 

They have no idea of an honest, pure passion, 
glorying in its strength — intense, intoxicated 
with the beautiful, giving even to inanimate 
things pulse and motion, and that transfigures, 
ennobles, and idealizes the object of its adora- 
tion. 

They do not walk the streets of the city of 



TESTIMONIAL TO WALT WHITMAN. H 

life — the} 7 explore the sewers ; they stand in 
the gutters and cry " Unclean !" They pretend 
that beauty is a snare ; that love is a Delilah ; 
that the highway of joy is the broad road, lined 
with flowers and filled with perfume, leading to 
the city of eternal sorrow. 

Since the year 1855 the American people 
have developed ; they are somewhat acquainted 
with the literature of the world. They have 
witnessed the most tremendous of revolutions, 
not only upon the fields of battle, but in the 
world of thought. The American citizen has 
concluded that it is hardly worth while being a 
sovereign unless he has the right to think for 
himself. 

And now, from this liight, with the vantage- 
ground of to-day, I propose to examine this 
book and to state, in a general way, what Walt 
Whitman has done, what he has accomplished, 
and the place he has won in the world of 
thought. 



12 LIBERTY IN LITERATURE. 



II. 

THE RELIGION OF THE BODY. 

"Walt Whitman stood, when he published his 
book, where all stand to-night — on the perpet- 
ually moving line where history ends and 
prophecy begins. He was full of life to the 
very tips of his fingers — brave, eager, candid, 
joyous with health. He was acquainted with 
the past. He knew something of song and 
story, of philosophy and art — much of the 
heroic dead, of brave suffering, of the thoughts 
of men, the habits of the people — rich as well 
as poor — familiar with labor, a friend of wind 
and wave, touched by love and friendship — 
liking the open road, enjoying the fields and 
paths, the crags — friend of the forest — feeling 
that he was free — neither master nor slave — 
willing that all should know his thoughts — 
open as the sky, candid as nature — and he gave 



TESTIMONIAL TO WALT WHITMAN. 13 

his thoughts, his dreams, his conclusions, his 
hopes, and his mental portrait to his fellow- 
men. 

Walt Whitman announced the gospel of the 
body. He confronted the people. He denied 
the depravity of man. He insisted that love is 
not a crime ; that men and women should be 
proudly natural ; that they need not grovel on 
the earth and cover their faces for shame. He 
taught the dignity and glory of the father and 
mother ; the sacredness of maternity. 

Maternity, tender and pure as the tear of 
pity, holy as suffering — the crown, the flower, 
the ecstasy of love. 

People had been taught from bibles and from 
creeds that maternity was a kind of crime ; that 
the woman should be purified by some cere- 
mony in some temple built in honor of some 
god. This barbarism was attacked in " Leaves 
of Grass." 

The glory of simple life was sung ; a declara- 
tion of independence was made for each 
and all. 



14 LIBERTY IN LITERATURE. 

And yet this appeal to manhood and to 
womanhood was misunderstood. It was de- 
nounced simply because it was in harmony 
with the great trend of nature. To me, the 
most obscene word in our language is celibacy. 

It was not the fashion for people to speak or 
write their thoughts. We were flooded with 
the literature of hypocrisy. The writers did 
not faithfully describe the worlds in which 
they lived. They endeavored to make a fash- 
ionable world. They pretended that the cot- 
tage or the hut in which they dwelt was a 
palace, and they called the little area in which 
they threw their slops their domain, their 
realm, their empire. They were ashamed of 
the real, of what their world actually was. 
They imitated ; that is to say, they told lies, 
and these lies filled the literature of most 
lands. 

Walt Whitman defended the sacredness of 
love, the purity of passion — the passion that 
builds every home and fills the world with art 
and songi 



TESTIMONIAL TO WALT WHITMAN. 15 

They cried out : " He is a defender of pas- 
sion — lie is a libertine ! He lives in the mire. 
He lacks spirituality !" 

Whoever differs with the multitude, especially 
with a led multitude — that is to say, with a 
multitude of taggers — will find out from their 
leaders that he has committed an unpardonable 
sin. It is a crime to travel a road of your own, 
especially if you put up guide-boards for the 
information of others. 

Many, many centuries ago Epicurus, the 
greatest man of his century, and of many centu- 
ries before and after, said : " Happiness is the 
only good ; happiness is the supreme end." 
This man was temperate, frugal, generous, 
noble — and yet through all these years he has 
been denounced by the hypocrites of the world 
as a mere eater and drinker. 

It was said that Whitman had exaggerated 
the importance of love — that he had made too 
much of this passion. Let me say that no poet 
— not excepting Shakespeare — has had imagi- 
nation enough to exaggerate the importance of 



16 LIBERTY IN LITERATURE. 

human love — a passion that contains all nights 
and all depths — ample as space, with a sky in 
which glitter all constellations, and that has 
within it all storms, all lightnings, all wrecks 
and ruins, all griefs, all sorrows, all shadows, 
and all the joy and sunshine of which the heart 
and brain are capable. 

No writer must be measured by a word or 
paragraph. He is to be measured by his work 
— by the tendency, not of one line, but by the 
tendency of all. 

Which way does the great stream tend ? Is 
it for good or evil ? Are the motives high and 
noble, or low and infamous ? 

We cannot measure Shakespeare by a few 
lines, neither can we measure the Bible by a 
few chapters, nor " Leaves of Grass " by a few 
paragraphs. In each there are many things 
that I neither approve nor believe — but in all 
books you will find a mingling of wisdom and 
foolishness, of prophecies and mistakes — in 
other words, among the excellencies there will 
be defects. The mine is not all gold, or all 



TESTIMONIAL TO WALT WHITMAN. 17 

silver, or all diamonds — there are baser metals. 
The trees of the forest are not all of one size. 
On some of the highest there are dead and 
useless limbs, and there may be growing be- 
neath the bushes, weeds, and now and then a 
poisonous vine. 

If I were to edit the great books of the, 
world, I might leave out some lines and I might 
leave out the best. I have no right to make 
of my brain a sieve and say that only that 
which passes through belongs to the rest of 
the human race. I claim the right to choose. 
I give that right to all. 

Walt Whitman had the courage to express 
his thought — the candor to tell the truth. 
And here let me say it gives me joy — a kind 
of perfect satisfaction — to look above the big- 
oted bats, the satisfied owls and wrens and 
chickadees, and see the great eagle poised, cir- 
cling higher and higher, unconscious of their 
existence. And it gives me joy, a kind of per- 
fect satisfaction, to look above the petty pas- 
sions and jealousies of small and respectable 



18 LIBERTY IN LITERATURE. 

people — above the considerations of place and 
power and reputation, and see a brave, intrepid 
man. 

It must be remembered that the American 
people had separated from the Old World — 
that we had declared not only the independ- 
ence of colonies, but the independence of the 
individual. "We had done more — we had de- 
clared that the state could no longer be ruled 
by the Church, and that the Church could not 
be ruled by the state, and that the individual 
could not be ruled by the Church. These dec- 
larations were in danger of being forgotten. 
We needed a new voice, sonorous, loud and 
clear, a new poet for America for the new epoch, 
somebody to chant the morning song of the 
new day. 

The great man who gives a true transcript of 
his mind, fascinates and instructs. Most writers 
suppress individuality. They wish to please 
the public. They flatter the stupid and pander 
to the prejudice of their readers. They write 
for the market — making books as other me- 



TESTIMONIAL TO WALT WHITMAN. 19 

chanics make shoes. They have no message — 
they bear no torch — they are simply the slaves 
of customers. The books they manufacture are 
handled by "the trade;" they are regarded as 
harmless. The pulpit does not object ; the 
young person can read the monotonous pages 
without a blush — or a thought. On the title 
pages of these books you will find the imprint 
of the great publishers — on the rest of the 
pages, nothing. These books might be pre- 
scribed for insomnia. 



20 LIBERTY IN LITERATURE. 



III. 

Men of talent, men of business, touch life 
upon few sides. They travel but the beaten 
path. The creative spirit is not in them. They 
regard with suspicion a poet who touches life 
on every side. They have little confidence in 
that divine thing called sympathy, and they do 
not and cannot understand the man who enters 
into the hopes, the aims, and the feelings of all 
others. 

In all genius there is the touch of chaos — a 
little of the vagabond ; and the successful 
tradesman, the man who buys and sells, or 
manages a bank, does not care to deal with a 
person who has only poems for collaterals — 
they have a little fear of such people, and re- 
gard them as the awkward countryman does a 
sleight-of-hand performer. 

In every age in which books have been pro- 



testimonial to walt whitman. 21 

duced the governing class, the respectable, have 
been opposed to the works of real genius. If 
what are known as the best people could have 
had their way, if the pulpit had been consulted — 
the provincial moralists — the works of Shake- 
speare would have been suppressed. Not a line 
would have reached our time. And the same 
may be said of every dramatist of his age. 

If the Scotch Kirk could have decided, noth- 
ing would have been known of Kobert Burns. 
If the good people, the orthodox, could have 
had their say, not one line of Voltaire would 
now be known. All the plates of the French 
Encyclopedia would have been destroyed with 
the thousands that were destroyed. Nothing 
would have been known of D'Alembert, Grimm, 
Diderot, or any of the Titans who warred 
against the thrones and altars and laid the 
foundation of modern literature not only, but 
what is of far greater moment, universal educa- 
tion. 

It is not too much to say that every book 
now held in high esteem would have been de- 



22 LIBERTY IN LITERATURE. 

stroyed, if those in authority could have had 
their will. Every book of modern times, that 
has a real value, that has enlarged the intel- 
lectual horizon of mankind, that has developed 
the brain, that has furnished real food for 
thought, can be found in the Index Expurgato- 
rius of the Papacy, and nearly every one has 
been commended to the free minds of men by 
the denunciations of Protestants. 

If the guardians of society, the protectors of 
"young persons," could have had their way, 
we should have known nothing of Byron or 
Shelley. The voices that thrill the world 
would now be silent. If authority could have 
had its way, the world would have been as 
ignorant now as it was when our ancestors 
lived in holes or hung from dead limbs by their 
prehensile tails. 

But we are not forced to go very far back. 
If Shakespeare had been published for the first 
time now, those divine plays — greater than con- 
tinents 'and seas, greater even than the constel- 
lations of the midnight sky — would be excluded 



TESTIMONIAL TO WALT WHITMAN. 23 

from the mails by the decision of the present 
enlightened postmaster-general. 

The poets have always lived in an ideal 
world, and that ideal world has always been far 
better than the real world. As a consequence, 
they have forever roused, not simply the imag- 
ination, but the energies — the enthusiasm of 
the human race. 

The great poets have been on the side of the 
oppressed — of the downtrodden. They have 
suffered with the imprisoned and the enslaved, 
and whenever and wherever man has suffered 
for the right, wherever the hero has been 
stricken down — whether on field or scaffold — 
some man of genius has walked by his side, 
and some poet has given form and expression, 
not simply to his deeds, but to his aspirations. 

From the Greek and Roman world we still 
hear the voices of a few. The poets, the phi- 
losophers, the artists and the orators still 
speak. Countless millions have been covered 
by the waves of oblivion, but the few who 
uttered the elemental truths, who had sym- 



24 LIBERTY IN LITERATURE. 

patby for the whole human race, and who were 
great enough to prophesy a grander day, are as 
alive to-night as when they roused, by their 
bodily presence, by their living voices, by their 
works of art, the enthusiasm of their fellow 
men. 

Think of the respectable people, of the men 
of wealth and position, those who dwelt in man- 
sions, children of success, who went down to 
the grave voiceless, and whose names we do not 
know. Think of the vast multitudes, the end- 
less processions, that entered the caverns of 
eternal night — leaving no thought — no truth as 
a legacy to mankind ! 

The great poets have sympathized with the 
people. They have uttered in all ages the 
human cry. Unbought by gold, unawed by 
power, they have lifted high the torch that 
illuminates the world. 



TESTIMONIAL TO WALT WHITMAN. 25 



IV. 

Walt Whitman is in the highest sense a be- 
liever in democracy. He knows that there is 
but one excuse for government — the preserva- 
tion of liberty; to the end that man may be 
happy. He knows that there is but one excuse 
for any institution, secular and religious — the 
preservation of liberty ; and that there is but 
one excuse for schools, for universal education, 
for the ascertainment of facts, namely, the pres- 
ervation of liberty. He resents the arrogance 
and cruelty of power. He has sworn never to 
be tyrant or slave. He has solemnly declared : 

I speak the pass-word primeval, I give the sign of democracy, 
By God! I will accept nothing which all cannot have their 
counterpart of on the same terms. 

This one declaration covers the entire ground. 
It is a declaration of independence, and it is 



26 LIBERTY EST LITERATURE!. 

also a declaration of justice, that is to say, a 
declaration of the independence of the individ- 
ual, and a declaration that all shall be free. 
The man who has this spirit can truthfully say: 

I have taken off my hat to nothing known or unknown. 
I am for those that have never been master'd. 

There is in Whitman what he calls " The 
boundless impatience of restraint " — together 
with that sense of justice which compelled him 
to say, " Neither a servant nor a master am I." 

He was wise enough to know that giving 
others the same rights that he claims for him- 
self could not harm him, and he was great 
enough to say : " As if it were not indispensa- 
ble to my own rights that others possess the 
same." 

He felt as all should feel, that the liberty of 
no man is safe unless the liberty of each is safe. 

There is in our country a little of the old ser- 
vile spirit, a little of the bowing and cringing 
to others. Many Americans do not understand 
that the officers of the government are simply 



TESTIMONIAL TO WALT WHITMAN. 27 

the servants of the people. Nothing is so de- 
moralizing as the worship of place. Whitman 
has reminded the people of this country that 
they are supreme, and he has said to them : 

The President is there in the White House for you, it is not 

you who are here for him, 
The Secretaries act in their bureaus for you, not you here for 

them. 
Doctrines, politics and civilization exurge from you, 
Sculpture and monuments and any thing inscribed anywhere 

are tallied in you. 

He describes the ideal American citizen — the 
one who 

Says indifferently and alike "How are you, friend?" to the 

President at his levee, 
And he says "Good-day, my brother," to Cudge that hoes in 

the sugar-field. 

Long ago, when the politicians were wrong, 
when the judges were subservient, when the 
pulpit was a coward, Walt Whitman shouted : 

Man shall not hold property in man. 

The least develop'd person on earth is just as important and 
sacred to himself or herself as the most develop'd per- 
son is to himself or herself. 



28 LIBERTY IN LITERATURE. 

This is the very soul of true democracy. 

Beauty is not all there is of poetry. It must 
contain the truth. It is not simply an oak, 
rude and grand, neither is it simply a vine. It 
is both. Around the oak of truth runs the vine 
of beauty. 

Walt Whitman utters the elemental truths 
and is the poet of democracy. He is also the 
poet of individuality. 



TESTIMONIAL TO WALT WHITMAN. 29 



V. 

INDIVIDUALITY. 

In order to protect the liberties of a nation, 
we must protect the individual. A democracy 
is a nation of free individuals. The individuals 
are not to be sacrificed to the nation. The na- 
tion exists only for the purpose of guarding 
and protecting the individuality of men and 
women. Walt Whitman has told us that : 
"The whole theory of the universe is directed 
unerringly to one single individual — namely to 
You." 

And he has also told us that the greatest 
city — the greatest nation — is " where the citizen 
is always the head and ideal." 

And that 

A great city is that which has the greatest men and women, 
If it be a few ragged huts it is still the greatest city in 
the whole world. 






30 LIBERTY IN LITERATURE. 

By this test maybe the greatest city on the 
continent to-night is Camden. 

This poet has asked of us this question : 

What do you suppose will satisfy the soul, except to walk 
free and own no superior? 

The man who asks this question has left no 
impress of his lips in the dust, and has no dirt 
upon his knees. 

He was great enough to say : 

The soul has that measureless pride which revolts from every 
lesson but its own. 

He carries the idea of individuality to its 
utmost hight : 

What do you suppose I would intimate to you in a hun- 
dred ways, but that man or woman is as good as God? 
And that there is no God any more divine than Yourself? 

Glorying in individuality, in the freedom of 
the soul, he cries out : 

to struggle against great odds, to meet enemies undaunted! 
To be entirely alone with them, to find how much one 

can stand 1 
To look strife, torture, prison, popular odium, face to face! 



TESTIMONIAL TO WALT WHITMAN. 31 

To mount the scaffold, to advance to the muzzles of guns 

with perfect nonchalance 1 
To be indeed a Godl 

And again : 

O the joy of a manly self-hood ! 

To be servile to none, to defer to none, not to any tyrant 

known or unknown, 
To walk with erect carriage, a step springy and elastic, 
To look with calm gaze or with a flashing eye, 
To speak with full and sonorous voice out of a broad chest, 
To confront with your personality all the other personalities of 

the earth. 

Walt Whitman is willing to stand alone. He 
is sufficient unto himself, and he says : 

Henceforth I ask not good-fortune, I myself am good-fortune. 

Strong and content I travel the open road. 
He is one of 

Those that look carelessly in the faces of Presidents and Gov- 
ernors, as to say "Who are you?" 

And not only this, but he has the courage 
to say : " Nothing, not God, is greater to one 
than one's self." 



32 LIBERTY IN LITERATURE. 

Walt Whitman is the poet of Individuality 
— the defender of the rights of each for the 
sake of all — and his sympathies are as wide 
as the world. He is the defender of the 
whole race. 



TESTIMONIAL TO WALT WHITMAN. 33 



VI. 

HUMANITY. 

The great poet is intensely human — infi- 
nitely sympathetic — entering into the joys and 
griefs of others, bearing their burdens, know- 
ing their sorrows. Brain without heart is not 
much ; they must act together. When the 
respectable people of the North, the rich, the 
successful, were willing to carry out the Fu- 
gitive Slave law, Walt Whitman said : 

I am the hounded slave, I wince at the bite of the dogs, 
Hell and despair are upon me, crack and again crack the 

marksmen, 
I clutch the rails of the fence, my gore dribs, thinn'd with 

the ooze of my skin, 
I fall on the weeds and stones, 
The riders spur their unwilling horses, haul close, 
Taunt my dizzy ears, and beat me violently over the head 

with whip-stocks. 



34 LIBERTY IN LITERATURE. 

Agonies are one of ray changes of garments, 
I do not ask the wounded person how he feels, I myself 
become the wounded person. . . . 

I . . . see myself in prison shaped like another man, 
And feel the dull unintermitted pain. > 

For me the keepers of convicts shoulder their carbines and 

keep watch, 
It is I let out in the morning and barr'd at night 

Not a mutineer walks handcuff'd to jail but I am handcuffd 
to him and walk by his side. 

Judge not as the judge judges, but as the sun falling upon a 
helpless thing. 

Of tlie very worst lie had the infinite tender- 
ness to say : " Not until the sun excludes you 
will I exclude you." 

In this age of greed when houses and 
lands, and stocks and bonds, outrank human 
life ; when gold is more of value than blood, 
these words should be read by all : 

"When the psalm sings instead of the singer, 
When the script preaches instead of the preacher, 



TESTIMONIAL TO WALT WHITMAN. 35 

When the pulpit descends and goes instead of the carver that 
carved the supporting desk. 

When I can touch the body of books by night or day, and 
when they touch my body back again, 

When a university course convinces like a slumbering woman 
and child convince, 

When the minted gold in the vault smiles like the night- 
watchman's daughter, 

When warrantee deeds loafe in chairs opposite and are my 
friendly companions, 

I intend to reach them my hand, and make as much of them 
as I do of men and women like you. 



36 LIBERTY IN LITERATURE. 



VII. 

The poet is also a painter, a sculptor — he, 
too, deals in form and color. The great poet 
is of necessity a great artist. With a few- 
words he creates pictures, filling his canvas 
with living men and women — with those who 
feel and speak. Have you ever read the ac- 
count of the stage-driver's funeral? Let me 
read it : 

Cold dash of waves at the ferry-wharf, posh and ice in the 
river, half-frozen mud in the streets, 

A gray discouraged sky overhead, the short last daylight of 
December, 

A hearse and stages, the funeral of an old Broadway stage- 
driver, the cortege mostly drivers. 

Steady the trot to the cemetery, duly rattles the death-bell, 
The gate is pass'd, the new-dug grave is halted at, the liv- 
ing alight, the hearse uncloses, 



TESTIMONIAL TO WALT WHITMAN. 37 

The coffin is pass'd out, lower'd and settled, the whip is laid 

on the coffin, the earth is swiftly shovel'd in, 
The mound above is flatted with the spades — silence, . 
A minute — no one moves or speaks — it is done, 
He is decently put away — is there any thing more? 

He was a good fellow, free-mouth'd, quick-temper'd, not bad- 
looking, 

Ready with life or death for a friend, fond of women, gambled, 
ate hearty, drank hearty, 

Had known what it was to be flush, grew low-spirited 
toward the last, sicken'd, was helped by a contribution, 

Died, aged forty-one years — and that was his funeral. 

Let me read you another description — one 
of a woman : 

Behold a woman ! 

She looks out from her quaker cap, her face is clearer and 
more beautiful than the sky. 

She sits in an armchair under the shaded porch of the 

farmhouse, 
The sun just shines on her old white head. 

Her ample gown is of cream-hued linen, 
Her grandsons raised the flax, and her grand-daughters 
spun it with the distaff and the wheel. 



38 LIBERTY IN LITERATURE. 

The melodious character of the earth, 

The finish beyond which philosophy cannot go and does 

not wish to go, 
The justified mother of men. 

Would you hear of an old-time sea fight ? 

"Would you learn who won by the light of the moon and 

stars ? 
List to the yarn, as my grandmother's father the sailor told 

it to me. 

Our foe was no skulk in his ship I tell you, (said he,) 
His was the surly English pluck, and there is no tougher 

or truer, and never was, and never will be ; 
Along the lower'd eve he came horribly raking us. 

We closed with him, the yards entangled, the cannon 

touch'd, 
My captain lash'd fast with his own hands. 

"We had receiv'd some eighteen pound shots under the 

water, 
On our lower-gun-deck two large pieces had burst at the 

first fire, killing all around and blowing up overhead. 

Fighting at sun-down, fighting at dark, 

Ten o'clock at night, the full moon well up, our leaks on the 
gain, and five feet of water reported, 



TESTIMONIAL TO WALT WHITMAN. 39 

The master-at-arms loosing the prisoners confined in the after- 
hold to give them a chance for themselves. 

The transit to and from the magazine is now stopt by the 

sentinels, 
They see so many strange faces they do not know whom to 

trust. 

Our frigate takes fire, 

The other asks if we demand quarter? 

If our colors are struck and the fighting done? ', 

Now I laugh content, for I hear the voice of my little cap- 
tain, 

"We have not struck,'' he composedly cries, "we have just 
begun our part of the fighting." 

Only three guns are in use, 

One is directed by the captain himself against the enemy's 

mainmast, 
Two well serv'd with grape and canister silence his musketry 

and clear his decks. 

The tops alone second the fire of this little battery, especially 

the main-top, 
They hold out bravely during the whole of the action. 

Not a moment's cease, 

The leaks gain fast on the pumps, the fire eutj toward the 
powder-magazine. 



40 LIBERTY IN LITERATURE. 

One of the pumps has been shot away, it is generally 

thought we are sinking. 
Serene stands the little captain, 

He is not hurried, his voice is neither high nor low, 
His eyes give more light to us than our battle-lanterns. 

Toward twelve there in the beams of the moon they sur- 
render to us. 

Stretch'd and still lies the midnight, 

Two great hulls motionless on the breast of the darkness, 

Our vessel riddled and slowly sinking, preparations to pass 

to the one we have conquer'd, 
The captain on the quarter-deck coldly giving his orders 

through a countenance white as a sheet, 
Near by the corpse of the child that serv'd in the cabin, 
The dead face of an old salt with long white hair and care- 
fully curl'd whiskers, 
The flames spite of all that can be done flickering aloft and 

below, 
The husky voices of the two or three officers yet fit for 

duty, 
Formless stacks of bodies and bodies by themselves, dabs of 

flesh upon the masts and spars, 
Cut of cordage, dangle of rigging, slight shock of the soothe 

of waves, 
Black and impassive guns, litter of powder-parcels, strong 

scent, 



TESTIMONIAL TO WALT WHITMAN. 41 

A few large stars overhead, silent and mournful shining, 

Delicate sniffs of sea-breeze, smells of sedgy grass and fields 
by the shore, death-messages given in charge to sur- 
vivors, 

The hiss of the . surgeon's knife, the gnawing teeth of his 
saw, 

Wheeze, cluck, swash of falling blood, short wild scream, and 
long, dull, tapering groan. 

Some people say that this is not poetry — 
that it lacks measure and rhyme. 



42 LIBERTY IN LITERATURE. 



VIII. 

WHAT IS POETRY? 

The whole world is engaged in the invisible, 
commerce of thought. That is to say, in tUe 
exchange of thoughts by words, symbols, 
sounds, colors and forms. The motions of 
the silent, invisible world, where feeling glows 
and thought flames — that contains all seeds 
of action — are made known only by sounds 
and colors, forms, objects, relations, uses and 
qualities — so that the visible universe is a 
dictionary, an aggregation of symbols, by 
which and through which is carried on the 
invisible commerce of thought. Each object is 
capable of many meanings, or of being used 
in many ways to convey ideas or states of 
feeling or of facts that take place in the world 
of the brain. 

The greatest poet is the one who selects 



TESTIMONIAL TO WALT WHITMAN. 43 

the best, the most appropriate symbols to 
convey the best, the highest, the sublimest 
thoughts. Each man occupies a world of his 
own. He is the only citizen of his world. He 
is subject and sovereign, and the best he can 
do is to give the facts concerning the world 
in which he lives to the citizens of other 
worlds. No two of these worlds are alike. 
They are of all kinds, from the flat, barren, 
and uninteresting — from the small and shriv- 
eled and worthless — to those whose rivers and 
mountains and seas and constellations belittle 
and cheapen the visible world. The inhabit- 
ants of these marvelous worlds have been 
the singers of songs, utterers of great speech 
— the creators of art. 

And here lies the difference between cre- 
ators and imitators : the creator tells what 
passes in his own world — the imitator does 
not. The imitator abdicates, and by the fact 
of imitation falls upon his knees. He is like 
one who, hearing a traveler talk, pretends to 
others that he has traveled. 



44 LIBERTY IN LITERATURE. 

In nearly all lands, the poet lias been 
privileged — for the sake of beauty, they have 
allowed him to speak, and for that reason 
he has told the story of the oppressed, and 
has excited the indignation of honest men 
and even the pity of tyrants. He, above all 
others, has added to the intellectual beauty 
of the world. He has been the true creator 
of language, and has left his impress on 
mankind. 

What I have said is not only true of 
poetry — it is true of all speech. All are 
compelled to use the visible world as a 
dictionary. Words have been invented and 
are being invented — for the reason that new 
powers are found in the old symbols, new 
qualities, relations, uses and meanings. The 
growth of language is necessary on account 
of the development of the human mind. The 
savage needs but few symbols — the civilized 
many — the poet most of all. 

The old idea was, however, that the poet 
must be a rhymer. Before printing was 



TESTIMONIAL TO WALT WHITMAN. 45 

known, it was said : the rhyme assists the 
memory. That excuse no longer exists. 

Is rhyme a necessary part of poetry? In 
my judgment, rhyme is a hindrance to ex- 
pression. The rhymer is compelled to wander 
from his subject — to say more or less than he 
means — to introduce irrelevant matter that 
interferes continually with the dramatic ac- 
tion and is a perpetual obstruction to sincere 
utterance. 

All poems, of necessity, must be short. 
The highly and purely poetic is the sudden 
bursting into blossom of a great and tender 
thought. The planting of the seed, the 
growth, the bud and flower must be rapid. 
The spring must be quick and warm — the 
soil perfect, the sunshine and rain enough — 
everything should tend to hasten, nothing to 
delay. In poetry, as in wit, the crystalliza- 
tion must be sudden. 

The greatest poems are rhythmical. While 
rhj^me is a hindrance, rhythm seems to be 
the comrade of the poetic. Ehythm has a 



■ ; ; ■ 



46 LIBERTY IN LITERATURE. 

natural foundation. Under emotion, the blood 
rises and falls, the muscles contract and 
relax, and this action of the blood is as 
rhythmical as the rise and fall of the sea. 
In the highest form of expression, the 
thought should be in harmony with this 
natural ebb and flow. 

The highest poetic truth is expressed in 
rhythmical form. I have sometimes thought 
that an idea selects its own words, chooses 
its own garments, and that when the thought 
has possession, absolutely, of the speaker or 
writer, he unconsciously allows the thought 
to clothe itself. 

The great poetry of the world keeps 
time with the winds and the waves. 

I do not mean by rhythm a recurring 
accent at accurately measured intervals. 
Perfect time is the death of music. There 
should always be room for eager -haste and 
delicious delay, and whatever change there 
may be in the rhythm or time, the action 
itself should suggest perfect freedom. 



TESTIMONIAL TO WALT WHITMAN. 47 

A word more about rhythm. I believe 
that certain feelings and passions — joy, grief, 
emulation, revenge, produce certain molec- 
ular movements in the brain — that every 
thought is accompanied by certain physical 
phenomena. Now it may be that certain 
sounds, colors, and forms produce the same 
molecular action in the brain that accom- 
panies certain feelings, and that these sounds, 
colors and forms produce first, the molecular 
movements and these in their turn reproduce 
the feelings, emotions and states of mind 
capable of producing the same or like 
molecular movements. So that what we 
call heroic music, produces the same molec- 
ular action in the brain — the same phys- 
ical changes — that are produced by the real 
feeling of heroism ; that the sounds we call 
plaintive produce the same molecular move- 
ment in the brain that grief, or the twi- 
light of grief, actually produces. There may 
be a rhythmical molecular movement belong- 
ing to each state of mind, that accompanies 



48 LIBERTY IN LITERATURE. 

each thought or passion, and it may be 
that music, or painting, or sculpture, pro- 
duces the same state of mind or feeling 
that produces the music or painting or 
sculpture, by producing the same molecu- 
lar movements. 

All arts are born of the same spirit, and 
express like thoughts in different ways — 
that is to say, they produce like states of 
mind and feeling. The sculptor, the painter, 
the composer, the poet, the orator, work to 
the same end, with different materials. The 
painter expresses through form and color 
and relation ; the sculptor through form and 
relation. The poet also paints and chisels 
— his words give form, relation and color. 
His statues and his paintings do not crum- 
ble, neither do they fade, nor will they as 
long as language endures. The composer 
touches the passions, produces the very states 
of feeling produced by the painter and 
sculptor, the poet and orator. In all these 



TESTIMONIAL TO WALT WHITMAN. 49 

there must be rhythm — that is to say, pro- 
portion — that is to say, harmony, melody. 

So that the greatest poet is the one who 
idealizes the common, who gives new mean- 
ings to old symbols, who transfigures the 
ordinary things of life. He must deal with 
the hopes and fears, and with the experi- 
ences of the people. 

The poetic is not the exceptional. A per- 
fect poem is like a perfect day. It has the 
undefinable charm of naturalness and ease. 
It must not appear to be the result of 
great labor. We feel, in spite of ourselves, 
that man does best that which he does 
easiest. 

The great poet is the instrumentality, not 
always of his time, but of the best of his 
time, and he must be in unison and accord 
with the ideals of his race. The sublimer 
he is, the simpler he is. The thoughts of 
the people must be clad in the garments 
of feeling — the words must be known, apt, 



50 LIBERTY IN LITERATURE. 

familiar. The hight must be in the thought, 
in the sympathy. 

In the olden time they used to have May 
day parties, and the prettiest child was 
crowned Queen of May. Imagine an old 
blacksmith and his wife looking at their 
little daughter clad in white and crowned 
with roses. They would wonder while they 
looked at her, how they ever came to have 
so beautiful a child. It is thus that the 
poet clothes the intellectual children or 
ideals of the people. They must not be 
gemmed and garlanded beyond the recogni- 
tion of their parents. Out from all the 
flowers and beauty must look the eyes of 
the child they know. 

We have grown tired of gods and god- 
desses in art. Milton's heavenly militia ex- 
cites our laughter. Light-houses have driven 
sirens from the dangerous coasts. We have 
found that we do not depend on the imag- 
ination for wonders— there are millions of 
miracles under our feet. 



TESTIMONIAL TO WALT WHITMAN. 51 

Nothing can be more marvelous than the 
common and everyday facts of life. The 
phantoms have been cast aside. Men and 
women are enough for men and women. In 
their lives is all the tragedy and all the 
comedy that they can comprehend. 

The painter no longer crowds his canvas 
with the winged and impossible — he paints 
life as he sees it, people as he knows them, 
and in whom he is' interested. "The An- 
gelus," the perfection of pathos, is nothing 
but two peasants bending their heads in 
thankfulness as they hear the solemn sound 
of the distant bell — two peasants, who have 
nothing to be thankful for — nothing but 
weariness and want, nothing but the crusts 
that they soften with their tears — nothing. 
And yet as you look at that picture you 
feel that they have something besides to be 
thankful for — that they have life, love, and 
hope — and so the distant bell makes music 
in their simple hearts. 



52 LIBERTY IN LITERATURE. 



IX. 

The attitude of Whitman toward religion 
has not been understood. Towards all forms 
of worship, towards all creeds, he has main- 
tained the attitude of absolute fairness. He 
does not believe that Nature has given her 
last message to man. He does not believe 
that all has been ascertained. He denies 
that any sect has written down the entire 
truth. He believes in progress, and, so be- 
lieving, he says : 

We consider bibles and religions divine — I do not say they 

are not divine, 
I say they have all grown out of you, and may grow out of 

you still, 
It is not they who give the life, it is you who give the life. 

His [the poet's] thoughts are the hymns of the praise of 

things, 
In the dispute on God and eternity he is silent. 



TESTIMONIAL TO WALT WHITMAN. 53 

Have you thought there could be but a single supreme? 

There can be any number of supremes — one does not counter- 
vail another any more than one eyesight countervails 
another. 

Upon the great questions, as to the great 
problems, he feels only the serenity of a great 
and well-poised soul. 

No array of terms can say how much I am at peace about 
God and about death. 

I hear and behold God in every object, yet understand God 

not in the least, 
Nor do I understand who there can be more wonderful than 

myself. . . . 

In the faces of men and women I see God, and in my own 

face in the glass, 
I find letters from God dropt in the street, and every one 

is sign'd by God's name. 

The whole visible world is regarded by him 
as a revelation, and so is the invisible world, 
and with this feeling he writes : 

Not objecting to special revelations — considering a curl of 
smoke or a hair on the back of my hand just as 
curious as any revelation. 



54 LIBERTY IN LITERATURE. 

The creeds do not satisfy, the old mythol- 
ogies are not enough ; they are too narrow 
at best, giving only hints and suggestions ; 
and feeling this lack in that which has been 
written and preached, Whitman says : 

Magnifying and applying come I, 
Outbidding at the start the old cautious hucksters, 
Taking myself the exact dimensions of Jehovah, 
Lithographing Kronos, Zeus his son, and Hercules his 

grandson, 
Buying drafts of Osiris, Isis, Belus, Brahma, Buddha, 
In my portfolio placing Manito loose, Allah on a leaf, the 

crucifix engraved, 
With Odin and the hideous-faced Mexitli, and every idol 

and image, 
Taking them all for what they are worth, and not a cent 

more. 

Whitman keeps open house. He is intel- 
lectually hospitable. He extends his hand 
to a new idea. He does not accept a creed 
because it is wrinkled and old and has a 
long white beard. He knows that hypocrisy 
has a venerable look, and that it relies on 
looks and masks — -on stupidity — and fear. 



TESTIMONIAL TO WALT WHITMAN. 55 

Neither does he reject or accept the new 
because it is new. He wants the truth, and 
so he welcomes all until he knows just who 
and what they are. 



56 LIBERTY IN LITERATURE. 



X. 

PHILOSOPHY. 

Walt Whitman is a philosopher. 

The more a man has thought, the more 
he has studied, the more he has traveled 
intellectually, the less certain he is. Only 
the very ignorant are perfectly satisfied that 
they know. To the common man the great 
problems are easy. He has no trouble in 
accounting for the universe. He can tell 
you the origin and destiny of man and the 
why and the wherefore of things. As a rule, 
he is a believer in special providence, and 
is egotistic enough to suppose that every- 
thing that happens in the universe happens 
in reference to him. 

A colony of red ants lived at the foot of 
the Alps. It happened one day, that an 
avalanche destroyed the hill; and one of the 



TESTIMONIAL TO WALT WHITMAN. 57 

ants was heard to remark : " Who could 
have taken so much trouble to destroy our 
home ?" 

Walt Whitman walked by the side, of the 
sea "where the fierce old mother endlessly 
cries for her castaways," and endeavored to 
think out, to fathom the mystery of being; 
and he said : 

I too but signify at the utmost a little wash'd-up drift, 

A few sands and dead leaves to gather, 

Gather, and merge myself as part of the sands and drift. 

Aware now that amid all that blab whose echoes recoil upon 

me I have not once had the least idea who or what 

I am, 
But that before all my arrogant poems the real Me stands 

yet untouch'd, untold, altogether unreach'd, 
Withdrawn far, mocking me with mock-congratulatory signs 

and bows, 
With peals of distant ironical laughter at every word I have 

written, 
Pointing in silence to these songs, and then to the sand 

beneath. . . . 
I perceive I have not really understood any thing, not a single 

object, and that no man ever can. 



5g LIBERTY IN LITERATURE. 

There is in our language no profounder 
poem than the one entitled "Elemental 
Drifts." 

The effort to find the origin has ever 
been, and will forever be, fruitless. Those 
who endeavor to find the secret of life re- 
semble a man looking in the mirror, who 
thinks that if he only could be quick 
enough he could grasp the image that he 
sees behind the glass. 

The latest word of this poet upon this 
subject is as follows : 

" To me this life with all its realities 
and functions is finally a mystery, the real 
something yet to be evolved, and the stamp 
and shape and life here somehow giving an 
important, perhaps the main, outline to 
something further. Somehow this hangs over 
everything else, and stands behind it, is 
inside of all facts, and the concrete and 
material, and the worldly affairs of life and 
sense. That is the purport and meaning 



TESTIMONIAL TO WALT WHITMAN. 5$, 

behind all the other meanings of Leaves 
or Gkass." 

As a matter of fact, the questions of ori- 
gin and destiny are beyond the grasp of 
the human mind. We can see a certain 
distance ; beyond that, everything is indis- 
tinct ; and beyond the indistinct is the un- 
seen. In the presence of these mysteries — 
and everything is a mystery so far as 
origin, destiny, and nature are concerned — 
the intelligent, honest man is compelled to 
say, "I do not know." 

In the great midnight a few truths like 
stars shine on forever — and from the brain 
of man come a few struggling gleams of 
light — a few momentary sparks. 

Some have contended that everything is 
spirit ; others that everything is matter ; and 
again, others have maintained that a part is 
matter and a part is spirit; some that spirit 
was first and matter after ; others that mat- 
ter was first and spirit after ; and others 
that matter and spirit have existed together. 



60 LIBERTY IN LITERATURE. 

But none of these people can by any pos- 
sibility tell what matter is, or what spirit is, 
or what the difference is between spirit and 
matter. 

The materialists look upon the spiritual- 
ists as substantially crazy ; and the spirit- 
ualists regard the materialists as low and 
groveling. These spiritualistic people hold 
matter in contempt ; but, after all, matter is 
quite a mystery. You take in your hand a 
little earth — a little dust. Do you know 
what it is ? In this dust you put a seed ; 
the rain falls upon it ; the light strikes it ; 
the seed grows ; it bursts into blossom ; it 
produces fruit. 

What is this dust — this womb? Do you 
understand it? Is there anything in the 
wide universe more wonderful than this ? 

Take a grain of sand, reduce it to powder, 
take the smallest possible particle, look at 
it with a microscope, contemplate its every 
part for days, and it remains the citadel of 
a secret — an impregnable fortress. Bring all 



TESTIMONIAL TO WALT WHITMAN. 61 

the theologians, philosophers, and scientists 
in serried ranks against it ; let them attack 
on every side with all the arts and arms of 
thought and force. The citadel does not fall. 
Over the battlements floats the flag, and the 
victorious secret smiles at the baffled hosts. 

Walt Whitman did not and does not im- 
agine that he has reached the limit — the 
end of the road traveled by the human race. 
He knows that every victory over nature is 
but the preparation for another battle. This 
truth was in his mind when he said: "Un- 
derstand me well ; it is provided in the es- 
sence of things, that from any fruition of 
success, no matter what, shall come forth 
something to make a greater struggle neces- 
sary." 

This is the generalization of all history. 



62 LIBERTY IN LITERATURE. 



XL 
THE TWO POEMS. 

There are two of these poems to which I 
have time to call special attention. The 
first is entitled, "A Word Out of the Sea." 

The boy, coming out of the rocked cradle, 
wandering over the sands and fields, up from 
the mystic play of shadows, out of the 
patches of briers and blackberries — from the 
memories of birds — from the thousand re- 
sponses of his heart — goes back to the sea 
and his childhood, and sings a reminiscence. 

Two guests from Alabama — two birds — 
build their nest, and there were four light 
green eggs, spotted with brown, and the two 
birds sang for joy : 

Shine! shine I shine I 

Pour down your warmth, great sun! 

"While we bask, we two together. 



TESTIMONIAL TO WALT WHITMAN. 63 

Two together I 

Winds blow south, or winds blow north, 
Day come white, or night come black, 
Home, or rivers and mountains from home, 
Singing all time, minding no time, 
While we two keep together. 

In a little while one of the birds is missed 
and never appeared again, and all through 
the summer the mate, the solitary guest, was 
singing of the lost : 

Blow ! blow ! blow 1 

Blow up sea-winds along Paumanok's shore; 

I wait and I wait till you blow my mate to me. 

And the boy that night, blending himself 
with the shadows, with bare feet, went down 
to the sea, where the white arms out in the 
breakers were tirelessly tossing ; listening to 
the songs and translating the notes. 

And the singing bird called loud and high 
for the mate, wondering what the dusky spot 
was in the brown and yellow, seeing the 
mate whichever way he looked, piercing the 
woods and the earth with his song, hoping 



64 LIBERTY IN LITERATURE. 

that the mate might hear his cry ; stopping 
that he might not lose her answer ; waiting and 
then crying again : " Here I am ! And this 
gentle call is for you. Do not be deceived 
by the whistle of the wind ; those are the 
shadows ;" and at last crying : 

past ! happy life ! songs of joy ! 
In the air, in the woods, over fields, 
Loved! loved! loved! loved! loved! 
But my mate no more, no more with me! 
We two together no more. 

And then the boy, understanding the song 
that had awakened in his breast a thousand 
songs clearer and louder and more sorrowful 
than the bird's, knowing that the cry of un- 
satisfied love would never again be absent 
from him ; thinking then of the destiny of 
all, and askirg of the sea the final word, 
and the sea answering, delaying not and 
hurrying not, spoke the low delicious word 
"Death!" "ever Death!" 

The next poem, one that will live as long 
as our language, entitled : " When Lilacs . 



TESTIMONIAL TO WALT WHITMAN. 65 

Last in the Dooryard Bloom'd," is on the 
death of Lincoln, 

The sweetest, wisest soul of all my days and lands. 

One who reads this will never forget the 
odor of the lilac, " the lustrous western star " 
and " the grey-brown bird singing in the 
pines and cedars." 

In this poem the dramatic unities are per- 
fectly preserved, the atmosphere and climate 
in harmony with every event. 

Never will he forget the solemn journey of 
the coffin through day and night, with the 
great cloud darkening the land, nor the 
pomp of inlooped flags, the processions long 
and winding, the flambeaus of night, the 
torches' flames, the silent sea of faces, the 
unbared heads, the thousand voices rising 
strong and solemn, the dirges, the shudder- 
ing organs, the tolling bells — and the sprig 
of lilac. 

And then for a moment they will hear the 
grey-brown bird singing in the cedars, bash- 



QQ LIBERTY IN LITERATURE. 

ful and tender, while the lustrous star lingers 
in the West, and they will remember the 
pictures hung on the chamber walls to adorn 
the burial house — pictures of spring and farms 
and homes, and the grey smoke lucid and 
bright, and the floods of yellow gold — of the 
gorgeous indolent sinking sun — the sweet her- 
bage under foot — the green leaves of the trees 
prolific — the breast of the river with the wind- 
dapple here and there, and the varied and 
ample land — and the most excellent sun so 
calm and haughty — the violet and purple morn 
with just-felt breezes — the gentle soft born 
measureless light — the miracle spreading, bath- 
ing all — the fulfill' d noon — the coming eve 
delicious and the welcome night and the 
stars. 

And then again they will hear the song of 
the grey-brown bird in the limitless dusk 
amid the cedars and pines. Again they will 
remember the star, and again the odor of the 
lilao. 



TESTIMONIAL TO WALT WHITMAN. 67 

But most of all, the song of the bird trans- 
lated and becoming the chant for death : 

A CHANT FOR DEATH. 

Come lovely and soothing death, 

Undulate round the world, serenely arriving, arriving, 

In the day, in the night, to all, to each, 

Sooner or later delicate death. 

Prais'd be the fathomless universe, 

For life and joy, and for objects and knowledge curious, 
And for love, sweet love— but praise! praise! praise! 
For the sure-enwinding arms of cool-enfolding death. 

Dark mother always gliding near with soft feet, 
Have none chanted for thee a chant of fullest welcome ? 
Then I chant it for thee, I glorify thee above all, 
I bring thee a song that when thou must indeed come, 
come unfalteringly. 

Approach strong deliveress, 

When it is so, when thou hast taken them I joyously sing 

the dead, 
Lost in the loving floating ocean of thee, 
Laved in the flood of thy bliss death. • 

From me to thee glad serenades, 

Dances for thee I propose saluting thee, adornments and 
feastings for thee, 



68 LIBERTY IN LTTEEATTSE. 

And the sights of the open landscape and the high) 

sky are fitting. 
And life and the fields, and the huge and thoughtful night 

The night in silence under many a star. 

The ocean shore and the husky whispering ware whose 

voice I know, 
And the soul turning to thee O rast and well-veil'd death 
And the body gratefully nestling close to thee. 

Over the tree-tops I float thee a song. 

Over the rising and sinking waves, orer the myriad fields 

and the prairies wide. 
Over the dense-paek'd cities all and the teeming wharves 

and ways, 
I float this carol with joy, with joy to thee death. 

TMs poem, in memory of " the sweetest, 
wisest soul of all our days and lands,"' and for 
whose sake lilac and star and bird entwined, 
will last as long as the memory of Lincoln. 



testimonial to walt whitman. $9 



XIT. 

OLD AGE. 

Walt Whitman is not only the poet of child- 
hood, of youth, of manhood, but, above all, of 
old age. He has not been soured by slander 
or petrified by prejudice ; neither calumny nor 
flattery has made him revengeful or arrogant. 
Now sitting by the fireside, in the winter of life, 

His jocund heart still beating in his breast, 

he is just as brave and calm and kind as ic 
his manhood's proudest days, when roses 
blossomed in his cheeks. He has taken life's 
seven steps. Now, as the gamester might say, 
" on velvet." He is enjoying " old age ex- 
panded, broad, with the haughty breadth of 
the universe ; old age, flowing free, with the 
delicious near-by freedom of death ; old age, 
superbly rising, welcoming the ineffable aggre- 
gation of dying days." 



70 LIBERTY IN LITERATURE. 

He is taking the " loftiest look at last," and 
before he goes he utters thanks : 

For health, the midday sun, the impalpable air — for life, 
mere life, 

For precious ever-lingering memories, (of you my mother 
dear— you, father — you, brothers, sisters, friends,) 

For all my days— not those of peace alone -the days of war 
the same, 

For gentle words, caresses, gifts from foreign lands, 

For shelter, wine and meat — for sweet appreciation, 

(You distant, dim unknown — or young or old — countless, un- 
specified, readers belov'd, 

We never met, and ne'er shall meet— and yet our souls em- 
brace, long, close and long;) 

For beings, groups, love, deeds, words, books— for colors, 
forms, 

For all the brave strong men— devoted, hardy men— who've 
forward sprung in freedom's help, all j'ears, all lands, 

For braver, stronger, more devoted men— (a special laurel ere 
I go, to life's war's chosen ones, 

The cannoneers of song and thought — the great artillerists — 
the foremost leaders, captains of the soul). 

It is a great thing to preach philosophy — far 
greater to live it. The highest philosophy 



TESTIMONIAL TO WALT WHITMAN. 71 

accepts the inevitable with a smile, and greets 
it as though it were desired. 

To be satisfied : This is wealth — success. 

The real philosopher knows that everything 
has happened that could have happened — con- 
sequently he accepts. He is glad that he has 
lived — glad that he has had his moment on 
the stage. In this spirit Whitman has accepted 
life. 

I shall go forth, 

I shall traverse the States awhile, but I cannot tell whither 

or how long, 
Perhaps soon some day or night while I am singing my 

voice will suddenly cease. 

book, chants! must all then amount to but this? 
Must we barely arrive at this beginning of us ? — and yet 

it is enough, soul ; 
soul, we have positively appear'd— that is enough. 

Yes, Walt Whitman has appeared. He has 
his place upon the stage. The drama is not 
ended. His voice is still heard. He is the 
Poet of Democracy — of all people. He is the 
poet of the body and soul. He has sounded 



72 LIBERTY IN LITERATURE, 

the note of Individuality. He has given the 
pass-word primeval. He is the Poet of Hu- 
manity — of Intellectual Hospitality. He has 
voiced the aspirations of America — and, above 
all, he is the poet of Love and Death. 

How grandly, how bravely he has given his 
thought, and how superb is his farewell — his 
leave-taking : 

After the supper and talk — after the day is done, 

As a friend from friends his final withdrawal prolonging, 

Good-bye and Good-bye with emotional lips repeating, 

(So hard for his hand to release those hands — no more will 

they meet, 
No more for communion of sorrow and joy, of old and young, 
A far-stretching journey awaits him, to return no more,) 
Shunning, postponing severance -seeking to ward off the last 

word ever so little, 
E'en at the exit-door turning— charges superfluous calling back 

— e'en as he descends the steps, 
Something to eke out a minute additional— shadows of night- 
fall deepening, 
Farewells, messages lessening — dimmer the forthgoer's visage 

and form, 
Soon to be lost for aye in the darkness— loth, so loth to 
depart ! 



TESTIMONIAL TO WALT WHITMAN. 73 

And is this all ? Will the forthgoer be lost, 
and forevei ? Is death the end ? Over the 
grave bends Love sobbing, and by her side 
stands Hope and whispers : 

We shall meet again. Before all life is 
death, and after all death is life. The falling 
leaf, touched with the hectic flush, that testi- 
fies of autumn's death, is, in a subtler sense, a 
prophec} 7 of spring. 

Walt Whitman has dreamed great dreams, 
told great truths and uttered sublime thoughts. 
He has held aloft the torch and bravely led 
the way. 

As you read the marvelous book, or the 
person, called "Leaves of Grass," you feel 
the freedom of the antique world ; you hear 
the voices of the morning, of the first great 
singers — voices elemental as those of sea and 
storm. The horizon enlarges, the heavens 
grow ample, limitations are forgotten — the 
realization of the will, the accomplishment of 
the ideal, seem to be within }-our power. Ob- 
structions become petty and disappear. The 



74 LIBERTY IN LITERATURE. 

chains and bars are broken, and the distinc- 
tions of caste are lost. The soul is in the 
open air, under the blue and stars — the flag 
of Nature. Creeds, theories and philoso- 
phies ask to be examined, contradicted, re- 
constructed. Prejudices disappear, supersti- 
tions vanish and custom abdicates. The 
sacred places become highways, duties and 
desires clasp hands and become comrades 
and friends. Authority drops the scepter, 
the priest the miter, and the purple falls 
from kings. The inanimate becomes articu- 
late, the meanest and humblest things utter 
speech and the dumb and voiceless burst into 
song. A feeling of independence takes pos- 
session of the soul, the body expands, the 
blood flows full and free, superiors vanish, 
flattery is a lost art, and life becomes rich, 
royal, and superb. The world becomes a per- 
sonal possession, and the oceans, the conti- 
nents, and constellations belong to you. Tou 
are in the center, everything radiates from you, 
and in your veins beats and throbs the pulse 



TESTIMONIAL TO WALT "WHITMAN. 75 

of all life. You become a rover, careless and 
free. You wander by the shores of all seas 
and hear the eternal psalm. You feel the 
silence of the wide forest, and stand beneath 
the intertwined and over arching boughs, en- 
tranced with symphonies of winds and woods. 
You are borne on the tides of eager and swift 
rivers, hear the rush and roar of cataracts as 
they fall beneath the seven-hued arch, and 
watch the eagles as they circling soar. You 
traverse gorges dark and dim, and climb the 
scarred and threatening cliffs. You stand in 
orchards where the blossoms fall like snow, 
where the birds nest and sing, and painted 
moths make aimless journeys through the 
happy air. You live the lives of those who 
till the earth, and walk amid the perfumed 
fields, hear the reapers' song, and feel the 
breadth and scope of earth and sky. You are 
in the great cities, in the midst of multitudes, 
of the endless processions. You are on the 
wide plains — the prairies — with hunter and 
trapper, with savage and pioneer, and you feel 



76 LIBERTY IN LITERATURE. 

the soft grass yielding under your feet. You 
sail in many ships, and breathe the free air of 
the sea. You travel many roads, and countless 
paths. You visit palaces and prisons, hospitals 
and courts ; you pity kings and convicts, and 
your sympathy goes out to all the suffering and 
insane, the oppressed and enslaved, and even 
to the infamous. You hear the din of labor, 
all sounds of factor}^, field, and forest, of all 
tools, instruments and machines. You become 
familiar with men and women of all employ- 
ments, trades and professions — with birth and 
burial, with wedding feast and funeral chant. 
You see the cloud and flame of war, and you 
enjoy the ineffable perfect days of peace. 
In this one book, in these wondrous "Leaves 
of Grass," you find hints and suggestions, 
touches and fragments, of all there is of life, 
that lies between the babe, whose rounded 
cheeks dimple beneath his mother's laughing, 
loving eyes, and the old man, snow-crowned, 
who, with a smile, extends his hand to 
death. 



TESTIMONIAL TO WALT WHITMAN. 



77 



We Lave met to-night to honor our- 
selves by honoring the author of "Leaves 
of Grass." 



^^? 




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WALT WHITMAN'S WORKS. 

Leaves of Grass. 

Complete, 1 Vol. Comprises all the author's Poetical Works to 1889. 

Contains every page, line and word attempted to be officially suppressed 
by Attorney -General Marston, of Massachusetts ; District Attorney Stevens, of 
Boston, and (until countermanded by the Government) excluded from the mails. 

i Vol. Crown 8vo, Gilt Top, uncut edges, $2. 00 

Specimen Days and Collect. 

A Full Compendium of the author's Prose Writings, Old and New. 

Gives Mr. Whitman's earlier days on Long Island, and young manhood 
in New York City ; copious War and Army Hospital Memoranda (i862-'65); 
Convalescent Out-Door Notes in the Country (i876-'8i); Literary Criticisms, 
including, at some length, an estimate of Carlyle ; Jaunts over the Great 
Plains and along the Rivers St. Lawrence and Saguenay. The Collect 
includes "Democratic Vistas," and all his Political and Critical Writings and 
Youthful Sketches. Tr 7 _., ,, 

I Vol. i2mo, Cloth, $2.00. 

Camden's Compliment to Whitman 

on his Seventieth Birthday. 

With frontispiece from bust by Sidney H. Morse. Containing the 
Addresses, Letters, Notes and Telegrams. Edited by Horace L. Traubel. 

Octavo, Cloth, Gilt Top, 50 Cents. 



November Boughs. 



Containing all the latest poems, under title of " Sands at Seventy; " also 
in prose, "A Backward Glance o'er Travel'd Roads," being the author's 
carte de visile to posterity, and a collection of essays on Shakespeare, Burns, 
Tennyson, etc. Portrait from Life, the Seventieth Year. 

" ' Sands at Seventy' are like the voice of an old friend whose tunes we have learned to 
love." — Boston Herald. 

" It is an admirable book for those who wish to know Whitman." — Boston Transcript. 

" The volume is indispensable to every owner of ' Leaves of" Grass,' and to every student 
of Whitman." — Philadelphia Times. 

" Sap at seventy is seldom so affluent as it is in this striking volume." — The Critic. 

i Vol. Crown 8vo, Gilt Top, uncut edges, $1. 23. 

After All Not to Create Only. 

Recited by Walt Whitman on invitation of managers American Institute 
on opening their 40th Annual Exhibition, New York, September 7th, 1871. 
Only a small balance of the original edition, Boston, 1871. 

1 2 mo, Cloth, 50 Cents. 

Complete Works. — Of this edition, which contains, "Leaves of Grass," 
"Specimen Days," and "November Boughs," only 600 copies were printed, 
each copy signed and numbered. 

1 Vol. Large Octavo, Half Cloth, Paper Label, $6.00, 






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